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Cameron Woods

Cameron Woods is the university's first to earn a law/higher education degree.

CARBONDALE — After earning his undergraduate degree in political science and journalism from the University of Arkansas, Cameron Woods knew that he also wanted to earn a law degree and an advanced degree in higher education.

The thought, though, of another five or so years in college was not appealing to him.

It was the spring of 2014, while he was at a higher education convention, that he met Saran Donahoo, chair and associate professor of SIU's College of Education and Human Services, and shared his dream with her about wanting to earn both a law degree and a degree in higher education. He’d wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Claudell Woods, an attorney who ran his own practice and who was also a professor; his father passed away this past September. His mother, Paula Woods, has a degree in counseling.

What Woods didn’t know, but what Donahoo told him that day was information that would alter the course of his life: He was told that SIU has just started the joint law and master’s in higher education degree.

He applied to the program and was accepted and three years later, became the first SIU student to earn the degree: He received the dual degree in graduation ceremonies Friday afternoon.

“I am a firm believer in God and believe that God orders our steps each and every day,” Woods said. “And I was kind of conflicted about how can I get both my master and my law degree ... without being in school for five years.”

His question was beginning to be answered. The first year of the program, he focused on his law studies. The second year, he took four law school classes and three education classes.

It was a “hectic second year,” he said. But he persevered, and found himself in his third and final year. “It was an adrenaline rush of being busy all the time.”

Now, he realizes he’d achieved a major dream — all by the age of 25.

Because of the current political climate in the country, he’d now like to use his new-found degrees in doing policy consultancy work in diversity and inclusion with colleges and universities.

“Kind of the ‘Olivia Pope’ of colleges and universities,” he said, referring to the star of the television show “Scandal.”

“It was enjoyable,” he said. “It was definitely tough work, but I hope it is something that other people develop an interest in and pursue. It’s not for the weak-hearted.”

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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